I am cardiophobic.
It’s a very particular phobia — it isn’t blood that makes me feel lightheaded, it isn’t gore that makes my stomach knot and my head spin, just the related plumbing. Hearts, veins, arteries… I can’t stand them. It’s bad enough that an image search for “hemangioma” (I had Reasons) made me faint.
What’s so strange about it is that it doesn’t even necessarily trigger a panic attack, outburst, or any real emotional response at all. It’s as if the mere sight of an exposed vein or the recorded lub-dup of a heartbeat is enough to override all of the rest of me, digging right in to the primitive complex of my brain where everything is pure reflex. Without enough time to even really consciously register what I’m looking at, my blood pressure drops. And so do I.
Exposure therapy, much as its name implies, involves being exposed to your phobias in an incremental fashion, in a controlled setting, in the hopes that you’ll eventually be able to develop the skills you need to encounter fear safely in the real world.
I didn’t really have much of an idea when I set out to do this, or really much knowledge of where or how to start. I looked up pictures of hearts (so, so many pictures of hearts), but looking at them alone didn’t seem to help.
It was when I broke them down into their component shapes, began looking at them as islands of color and shade, that it became easier. (Easy enough that I could sit down and do this without passing out and whacking my head on the desk!) I don’t know if one picture is enough to prepare me for an operating theater, but it’s a start.
If you like, please enjoy this process video. Don’t worry — you won’t have to look at any hearts.